Prager and Co. help Princeton reach finals

By: Bob Nuse
   PISCATAWAY — The first thing you notice about Princeton University’s 11-9 win over Johns Hopkins in the NCAA tournament semifinals on Saturday is that senior B.J. Prager set a career high for goals in a tournament game with five.
   But Prager will be the first to tell you those five goals were not just a product of the way he was playing, but also the way Ryan Boyle, Sean Hartofilis and a host of midfielders were playing.
   "We have really been moving the ball well," said Prager, who scored two of his goals off assists from Boyle, two with assists from Matt Trevenen and one with an assist from Brendan Tierney. We’re all unselfish and the middies have done such a good job, no matter who happens to be on the field. They were sliding off me and that allowed things to open up.
   "Our middies have been forcing the other guys to slide and that has opened things up for me, Ryan and Sean."
   Princeton scored 11 goals in Saturday’s semifinal win, and seven of them came off assists. The offense being in sync recently is one huge reason the Tigers took an eight-game winning streak into Monday’s NCAA championship game against Syracuse.
   "A lot of the credit has to go to Dave Metzbower for putting them into position to make the most of their abilities," Princeton head coach Bill Tierney said of his assistant coach and right-hand man of the past 13 years. "If Ryan beats his guy, he knows that B.J. or Sean will be in position. Metzy has been with me for 13 years and he’s sometimes unheralded for what he does. But what he does has been amazing."
   So is what the Tigers do on the field. Since Tierney took over in 1989 the team’s calling card has been its defense. But there have been some great offensive players over the years as well. The Jon Hess, Jesse Hubbard, Chris Massey attack was one of the best in the history of the sport. And the way Prager, Boyle and Hartofilis have played this year, they’ve made their own name for themselves.
   "Sean Hartofilis is a great shooter, Ryan can dodge as well as anyone in the country, and I feel like I can finish inside," said Prager, who scored the winning goal in the Tigers’ overtime win over Syracuse in last year’s NCAA final. "So a defense has to respect what each of us can do. We have real good chemistry, not just between us but with the midfielders as well. I think we have it going pretty good right now."
   Hartofilis scored just one goal Saturday, yet his mere presence on the field allowed Prager to have his big game. With three weapons like the Tigers have, defense have to pick their poison.
   "One of the things I was proudest of was Sean’s patience," Tierney said after Saturday’s win. "He’s a guy who has scored eight goals in the last two semifinal games he has played in. They put (Michael) Peyser on him today and he didn’t force shots and he didn’t push things too hard. The three of them play together well and it doesn’t seem to matter to them who the middies are that we happen to have on the field."
   This time it was Prager who was the big scorer, coming through in a big game the same way he did a year ago in the national title game.
   "I like to think of myself as a big-game player," Prager said. "I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but I like playing here at Rutgers in this atmosphere. This is a great stadium with a great field. You get nearly 30,000 fans here and it’s hard not to get up for the game."
   "B.J. is a finisher and he had a big-time game," Tierney added. "He and Ryan have been coming together. I’m a believer that big-time players come through in big games. Last week in was Ryan against Georgetown. This week it was B.J. against Hopkins."
   And thanks to their efforts, the Tigers were able to reach another NCAA championship game.